In the 2015 UK General Election 23% of the advertising spend was spent on digital media*. The Conservative Party spent £1.2m on Facebook advertising alone. And unlike TV and radio advertising, which British political parties are not allowed to buy by law, there are no such restrictions on digital advertising. Yet digital advertising, and social advertising in particular, offers these political parties an unrivalled opportunity to deliver specific messages to the key voters they want to influence. So we should expect to see much more spend in the coming General Election.

The latest Ofcom study on Adults Media use in the UK shows that by 2015, 87% of UK adults have access to the Internet and 76% of these use social media sites**. Even if these numbers have not changed much in the last year (Internet penetration is pretty stable in the UK), over two-thirds of the UK population are addressable in social media. And this will be higher for a younger audience who we know are less likely to have voted in 2015 and are so targets as potential new or swing voters. So whilst TV is still the majority of screen time for audiences in the UK***, digital advertising, and social advertising, offer a material opportunity to reach the electorate.

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Added to this the ability to target and personalise messaging, and to show different messaging to different people, digital offers a significant advantage over TV advertising. There are significantly varied reasons to believe for an individual party at a General Election – especially when local factors are taken into account. You are as likely to find voters swung by hyper-local issues, like the potential closure of a local hospital or investment in jobs in a town, as you are bigger national issues such as Brexit and the economy. So an effective strategy needs to understand the right mix of local and national messaging for individual voters and to deliver this messaging to them at the right point and in the right way.

This can be done with the kind of hyper-targeting that digital advertising should deliver. Want to show your message about your party’s commitment to the local hospital, for example, then why not show it to potential voters near the hospital. Want to talk about your party’s commitment to invest in business in your area, then why not show that to people at work in the local business park during their lunchtime. All of this is possible with digital advertising, with the added layer of being able to target potential voters and swing voters with an extra layer of messaging. And if this message doesn’t work, then how about following up with one that you know is more likely to be engaged with by people who reject the hospital or investment message.

Targeting, modelling audiences and the ability to target digital media to known contacts (and to people who look like them). And to do this at a granular level. A good campaign, driven by data, could use digital marketing to change opinions on the issues that matter most to individuals, and to drive votes that could b critical in a marginal constituency.

And parties could spend as much as they like doing this, because there are not limits in spend on digital marketing. In 2015 the Conservative Party’s £1.2m spend on Facebook significantly overshadowed the spend by all other parties combined. All parties should be looking at effective spend at these levels and beyond. All parties should be looking at building best-in-class digital marketing strategies. And then 2017 could really be the year that social media and digital marketing come into their own at a UK election.

**Electoral Commission

Matt Rhodes

About Matt Rhodes

Head of Digital Strategy for work. Marathon runner and charity trustee for fun.

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